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Simpler is better on homestead
A GOP poll shows strong approval for the latest tax plan.
By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
Published October 13, 2007
TALLAHASSEE - In terms of gaining public support, the now-defunct super homestead exemption amendment had two big problems: It was hard to understand. And it failed to protect funding for schools, which turned educators into instant opponents.
"It was going to be a hard sell," Sen. Dan Webster, one of the plan's primary authors, conceded Friday.
The Legislature's new amendment is simpler and specifically shields schools from tax cuts. And, Webster said Friday, new Republican Party polling shows the new plan is well above the 60 percent margin needed for approval.
An independent poll had put the approval rating for the old amendment, which a judge ruled misleading, at 47 percent.
The old plan would have reduced school revenue from property taxes by up to $2-billion a year. Republican lawmakers promised to replace the funding, but many people simply did not believe they would keep that pledge.
Webster, R-Winter Garden, did not reveal specifics of the GOP poll. He did say that it showed voters were neutral on the old plan's impact on education; what put them off, he said, was the plan's complexity.
The new plan, which would go before voters on Jan. 29, largely does not apply to school tax levies.
"We're very pleased," said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association. Continuing to mobilize unions against the tax cuts, he said, would seem foolish.
The Legislature will return to Tallahassee on Monday to begin discussing the new proposal, which includes:
- Doubling the $25,000 homestead exemption.
- Allowing people to carry accrued benefits under Save Our Homes when they move.
- Giving a 25 percent discount on taxable value for first-time home buyers.
But the package, worth more than $11-billion over five years, is geared largely to those who already enjoy the most protection from property taxes.
The plan has some relief for owners of affordable housing complexes and waterfront commercial property and gives a $25,000 exemption on taxes businesses pay on equipment. Yet the savings are bound to disappoint those hoping for dramatic reductions. The bigger homestead exemption, for example, would save the average taxpayer $214.
The $25,000 exemption is a "tidbit," said Randy Miller, executive vice president of the Florida Retail Federation. "We wished the plan included more for nonhomestead property," perhaps a Save Our Homes-like cap on assessments.
Even so, Miller said he expects business interests to support passage of the plan (though maybe not financially) because it could stimulate the housing market. That could get people into home supply shops and other retail outlets.
"The governor made a promise to the people. He didn't promise business anything," said Rick McAllister, president of the Retail Federation. He is hopeful Gov. Charlie Crist, who helped craft the plan over the past week, and the Legislature will follow through on new promises to treat the tax plan as a first step.
House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami, has not hidden his disappointment with the new proposal. He said he read a letter from a woman who has a rental home with annual property taxes approaching $10,000. Neither the old or new plan would give her any tax relief.
"When I'm sitting across the table from her, she's not going to care what the polls say about this plan. She's going to want to know how much does this plan save me?"